Progressive Enhancement vs. Graceful Degradation
Jun 30, 2011
After some “progressive enhancement versus graceful degradation” discussions with a friend of mine (yes, I have friends, and yes we do talk about such things) I believe I have finally realized the difference between the two.
At first, I thought progressive enhancement (P.E.) was a new form graceful degradation (G.D.) — a buzzword thrown around in nerdy social circles. If you aren’t familiar with graceful degradation it’s: “Degradation of a system (browser) in such a manner that it continues to operate, but provides a reduced level of service rather than failing completely.” And the formal definition of P.E. is…well, I can’t really find a formal definition. It’s a very new term that was coined and promoted by Steven Champeon in 2003. But, essentially, P.E. is the opposite of G.D. Whereas graceful degradation is consumed by “modern” browser technologies, P.E. seeks out the dated browser and establishes these browsers as baseline.
The more I mull this over, the more I realize the importance of progressive enhancement. Experience matters and P.E. plays a huge part in user experience. When creating a website/mobile site/interactive experience, the P.E. approach works wonderfully. Instead of creating an experience for a user on a “modern” browser, then letting that experience “gracefully degrade,” we start at the base level with P.E. and layer goodies on top to “enhance” the experience.
I can understand the appeal of G.D. It doesn’t take into account dated browsers (I’m looking at you IE6). It says, “You must be this tall to go on this ride.” But the progressive enhancement light has shined on me, and I have found the error of my ways. The myriad of online devices have expanded and we must think of user experience across all of them — not just the “best” — when communicating our story.
After much struggle I believe I understand P.E. and what it means for user experience. I’ve looked down into this lush valley of user confidence (spotted with unicorns) and take pride in this realization. Hopefully now you can go forth and preach the ways of progressive enhancement.